Traffic (2000)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive drug content, strong language, violence and some sexuality.

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(based on the 1989 British television serial, Traffik)

Written by: Stephen Gaghan

Directed by: Steven Soderbourgh

Starring: Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quad, and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Drug trafficking and the U.S.’s determination to destroy it is one of the largest political debates there is. In 2000, Steven Soderbourgh directed a film that set out to tackle every aspect of this very obvious problem. In 5 different stories, Soderbourgh finds a way to design a truly beautiful and personal look at the impact drugs have in our communities and in our governments. This political piece takes a middle ground in political opinions and will surge you full of plenty of different emotions to keep you interested from title screen to credits.

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This film follows five connected stories on either side of the Mexican border near San Diego. A newly appointed drug czar (Michael Douglas) is trying to find his footing in a world he has no experiences with. A selfless Mexican cop (Benicio del Toro) who is just trying to look out for his best friend. A couple of detectives (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who are trying to crack down on one of the largest drug trafficking organizations. A wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who’s husband has been hauled off to prison after being busted for leading a drug trafficking organization. Finally, the drug czar’s daughter (Erika Christenson) is having her own battles with drug abuse after being introduced by her boyfriend.

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The first thing that I must praise this film for is it’s ability to feel truly realistic and create five immensely entertaining and impactful stories. The different locations are differentiated through different filters and saturations that create an interesting visual look and makes for an easily understandable change in story. The use of real government facilities and the appearances of many real life senators and governors make the film feel much more like a documentary than a fictional film.

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Benicio del Toro won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars the year this film came out. For good reason too, Benicio steals the show with his undeniable presence he brings the second he walks on screen. The emotional performance he gives is nothing short of extraordinary. In one of his last scenes, he makes a deal with someone and says that all he wants is lights for the baseball field in his home town so the boys could play safely at night.

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Probably the weakest story in the film is the one following Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character. It starts off very strong but everything likeable about the characters in this situation disappears in the last half of the story. Also, i feel like the film could have ended each story with a more satisfying conclusion. Even though the film runs for almost 2 and a half hours, I think it could’ve held up even better with an extra hour added on. The film just did not feel long enough for me.

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“If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.” Michael Douglas and his fictional daughter played by Erika Christensen are both one of the greatest things about this film. They both bring in an amazing performance with very realistic chemistry that makes for some very intense and heartbreaking scenes. It’s very relateable on both ends and makes you really feel for both of these characters to a deep level.

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Traffic is paced at a breakneck speed and goes by quicker than one might expect. A near perfect film that makes me very interested in what else the highly acclaimed Steven Soderbourgh has to offer. I definitely recommend this film to anybody who wants to have an enjoyable and emotional time. A warning to people sensitive to drug use because there are some very graphic scenes of drug use.

Grade: A

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